says road safety charity and Direct Line
Research released today by Brake, the road safety charity, and Direct Line Car Insurance, finds two out of three drivers haven’t got a clue how to correctly position their head restraints and two out of three drivers never or rarely check their head restraints.
Two out of three respondents said they didn’t know how to correctly position their head restraints, or incorrectly thought the top of a head restraint should be level with your neck or ears. The remaining one in three drivers correctly say the top of a head restraint should be level with the top of your head to give your head protection and to stop your neck ‘hyper-extending’ backwards in a crash, potentially breaking it or giving you other severe injuries.
Two out of three respondents said they never or rarely check their head restraints. Only one in seven drivers claimed to always check.
When comparing those drivers who knew how to correctly position their head restraints with those who said they regularly checked, the researchers found that only one in 17 drivers (6%) knew the correct position and bothered to regularly check it. This is exactly the same percentage as when Brake and Direct Line carried out the same research five years ago in 2004, indicating that awareness has not improved in the meantime.
Mary Williams OBE, Brake chief executive says: “Even if drivers did regularly check their head restraint, the research shows us that most drivers wouldn’t have a clue whether it was correct or not, which largely explains why they don’t bother. There needs to be a major awareness-raising campaign on this life-saving, simple measure we can all take. Incorrect head restraints result in death, permanent disability, and in the more minor cases excruciating back and neck pain. Yet it only takes a couple of seconds to check and adjust your restraint and those of other occupants in your vehicle.”
Andy Goldby, Director of Motor Underwriting at Direct Line says: “It is worrying that people are not aware of how head restraints in a car can help prevent injury during a collision. Whenever getting in a car, whether as the driver or a passenger, you should adjust your head restraint correctly to mitigate any potential injury. It simply isn’t worth the risk of not checking, 10 seconds to adjust it could prevent restrictions on what you can physically do for the rest of your life.”
Case study: Michelle Houldershaw suffered whiplash injuries on 23 November 2000 following a car crash in Boston, Lincolnshire. Doctors later diagnosed her injuries as having developed into vertebrobasilar insufficiency (VBI) – a condition which has caused Michelle to have two heart attacks and seven paralyses, which have similar effects to those of a stroke.
Michelle Houldershaw says: “A short loss of concentration from the driver behind caused complicated whiplash and led to neck pain and spasms. From being an independent, active person; I became a disabled person who was being cared for by her two young children and husband. If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a car crash, don’t suffer more than you have to – adjust your head restraint to the correct height.”
Top tips on adjusting your head restraint from Brake:
1. If you don’t have a head restraint or an inadequate one that doesn’t reach the top of your head, change your car as your neck isn’t protected.
2. Adjust your seat so it is upright, not in a reclined position, allowing the head restraint to be as close to the back of your head as possible, ideally touching it. This might mean also moving your seat backwards, away from the steering wheel.
3. Adjust your head restraint so its top is level with the top of your head.
4. Ensure the head restraint is securely fastened and won’t fall down.
5. If your head restraint is broken, get it fixed.
6. Ensure everyone else in your car has their head restraint appropriately positioned for them. Check all children have a restraint behind their heads that is either part of their child seat or, if they are taller than 150cm, on the main car seat.
Facts on the dangers of whiplash:
§ Head restraints should be positioned so the top is level with the top of a person’s head and as close to the head as possible, ideally touching it. If there is no head restraint, or it is positioned incorrectly, the person is much more likely to suffer whiplash in a crash. 
§ More than 432,000 people make an insurance claim for whiplash every year in the UK.  Whiplash can cause neck and back pain, nausea, permanent disability and death.
§ Research centre Thatcham crash-tests cars to analyse their ability to protect occupants from whiplash injuries. In 2008, it rated 35% of new models as having ‘good’ protection, 25% as ‘acceptable’, 24% as ‘marginal’ and 16% as ‘poor’. 
§ ‘Active’ head restraints, triggered by sensors in a crash, move towards the head, providing extra support and ensuring the head cannot move backwards. US research shows active head restraints reduce serious neck injury by up to 75%. 
Survey questions and answers in full:
Q18a: How frequently do you check, before driving off, that your head restraint and those of any passengers are properly adjusted for safety?
§ 14% said they always check
§ 12% said they check most times
§ 5% said they check about half the time
§ 27% said they rarely check
§ 36% said they never check
§ 3% said they did not have a head restraint
§ 3% did not answer
Q18b: What is the correct height for a head restraint?
§ 34% thought a head restraint should be level with the top of their head
§ 19% thought a head restraint should be level with the top of their ears
§ 7% thought a head restraint should be level with their neck
§ 35% said they did not know
§ 5% did not answer
Brake is an independent national road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the 8 deaths and 79 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake produces educational road safety literature, runs community training programmes and runs events including Road Safety Week (23-29 November 2009). Brake’s Fleet Safety Forum provides up-to-date fleet safety resources to fleet managers and runs a year-round programme of events. BrakeCare, Brake’s support division, cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.
About Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.
Direct Line is part of RBS Insurance, the second largest general insurer in the UK and is wholly owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com